“I Fought the Law”

In Nevada, it is illegal to put an American Flag in a bar of soap

In Georgia, picnics are prohibited in graveyards

 

In Iowa it is illegal to sniff glue

In Louisiana, it is illegal to gargle in public

A pickle has to bounce to be considered a pickle in Connecticut. The regulation has its roots in a 1948 incident in which pickle packers Sidney Sparer and Moses Dexler were arrested for selling rotten pickles “unfit for human consumption,” according to the Connecticut State Library. After the men’s arrest, Connecticut’s food and drug commissioner shared a tip with reporters for weeding out good pickles from the bad: Drop them from a height of 1 foot, and if they bounce, they’re safe to eat. The pickles in question did not bounce. Sparer and Dexler were fined $500–the maximum penalty–and their pickles were destroyed. Connecticut’s bouncing-pickle regulation went into effect soon afterward.

These are just a few of the alleged rules that sparked photographer Olivia Locher’s series, “I Fought the Law” (2013–16). The body of work, which visualizes 50 of America’s most bizarre regulations, is whimsical and delightfully outlandish. But it also poses some serious questions: Where did these laws come from? How could they possibly be true? And is our legal system really that arbitrary?

Locher, a self-described do-gooder, began pondering these conundrums in 2012. “One night, my friend announced that it’s illegal to have an ice cream cone in your back pocket in Alabama,” Locher tells me. “That off-hand comment stuck with me.”

 

In fact, Locher couldn’t get the statement out of her head for over a year. “There was something so bizarre and so visual about it,” she says. “And when an idea haunts me long enough, I usually turn it into work.”

 

Curious to learn more about the purported ban on back-pocket ice cream, Locher, like most millennials, began her research on the internet. It wasn’t easy to find the information on the rule’s origins, but after some digging, she learned that her friend had been wrong. According to her research, it wasn’t illegal to store a cone in your pants in Alabama. At one time, however, it had been off limits in Kentucky and Georgia. Legend has it that, in the 1800s, horse thieves nestled ice cream in their back pockets to lure the animals away from their rightful owners—hence the crackdown.

 

How the passage of time had transformed this law into a fantastical rumor fascinated Locher. She wondered if there were other rules with similarly archaic backstories. “How this law had been appropriated, twisted, and taken as fact was so interesting to me,” she says. “I became obsessed with finding more.”

“I Fought the Law,” which comprises a new book by the same name, brings together 50 of these unbelievable regulations—one for each state. Locher found them across the internet, and in two books published: Crazy Laws (1979) and More Crazy Laws (1992), both by Dick Hyman.

In South Dakota it’s unlawful to cause static

 

Together, the photographs represent a mix of laws that remain on the statute books, those that have been revoked, those which never came to fruition but nearly did, and a handful of myths. Across the series, Locher pairs the single-sentence rules with sumptuous, candy-colored studio photography that illustrates their absurdity.

In Rhode Island it is illegal to wear transparent clothing

 

Olivia Locher, I Fought the Law (California), 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Chronicle Books.

One spread pictures a man who’s mounted a bike that is half-submerged in a pool. He wears swim trunks, goggles, and a swim cap—equipment that becomes futile the second you realize he’s not riding the bike through the water, but actually sinking. The caption that accompanies the image reads: “In California nobody is allowed to ride a bicycle in a swimming pool.”

Another shows a woman removing her top in front of a stately portrait of former president Dwight Eisenhower. The corresponding text reveals the origin of the image: “In Ohio it is illegal to disrobe in front of a portrait of a man.”

Olivia Locher, I Fought the Law (Ohio), 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Chronicle Books.

And an image of a woman ecstatically glugging a bottle of Chanel No. 5 like she might a fine wine says: “In Delaware it is illegal to consume perfume.”

Olivia Locher, I Fought the Law (Delaware), 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Chronicle Books.

 

Across the series, Locher doesn’t distinguish between fact and myth. The ambiguity is intentional “because these laws themselves are ambiguous,” she says. “It’s hard to find anything about them—their origins, whether or not there’s any truth to them—even in law books.”

This obscurity also reflects how archaic, arbitrary, and downright puzzling laws, and the legal jargon that surrounds them, can feel to the American public. And how easy it is for these regulations to be interpreted—or misinterpreted. Locher’s photos highlight these absurdities by broadcasting them in a language we can all understand: images.

In Indiana it’s illegal for a man to be sexually aroused in public

In Hawaii coins are not permitted to be placed in ones ears

In Mississippi Sesame Street was once banned from pubs

In Alaska it is illegal for an intoxicated person to be in an establishment that serves alcohol

In Michigan it is illegal to paint sparrows with the intention of selling them as parakeets

 

In Maine it’s unlawful to tickle women under the chin with a feather duster

In Arizona, you may not have more than two dildos in a house

In Florida, a person may not appear in public clothed in liquid latex

In Kentucky, it’s illegal to lick a toad

In Massachusetts, photographing upskirt photos can be considered a crime

In Missouri, it’s illegal to deface a milk carton

In Nebraska, it’s illegal for a parent to perm their child’s hair without a state license

In Pennsylvania it’s illegal to tie a dollar bill to a string and pull it away when someone tries to pick it up

In Texas it is illegal for children to have unusual haircuts

In North Carolina it’s a misdemeanor to urinate on someone else’s property

In Idaho it’s illegal to be nude outdoors, even on private property

In Wyoming, it’s illegal for a hairdresser to groom one’s pubic hair

In Washington, it’s illegal to paint polka dots on the American flag

In Wisconsin, it is illegal to serve apple pie in public restaurants without cheese

In Minnesota, it is illegal for a person to cross state lines with a bird atop their head

In Oregon, people may not test their physical endurance while driving a car on a highway

In Virginia, spitting on a seagull is punishable by a fine

 

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